Gut Check: Iowa 75, Penn State 67 (2-OT)

The Iowa Men's Basketball team showed what it was made of on Saturday, beating Penn State 75-67 in double overtime in the regular season finale in front of more than 14,000 fans in Carver Hawkeye Arena. Jake Kelly, Cyrus Tate and Jarryd Cole recorded double doubles for Iowa. This game was all about guts, the players in the black and gold answered the call.

One year ago, the Iowa Men's basketball team was playing out the string in Todd Lickliter's first season in Iowa City.  They lost six of their final eight regular season games and weren't all that competitive in the majority of the games they did lose.  They would get blown out in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament by Michigan, and Tony Freeman would transfer out of the program a few weeks later amidst some controversy.


Not exactly the way Coach Lickliter was looking to head into year two, and little did he know that year two was going to bring on so much more rough sledding.


Jake Kelly breaks a bone in his shooting hand in October, Jeff Peterson breaks a bone in his wrist in November, leading scorer Anthony Tucker gets mononucleosis and would later be academically ineligible, right before the start of Big Ten play.  Two and a half games later, senior forward Cyrus Tate would go down with a serious ankle injury that would cost him nine of his next ten games, all but four minutes in another game and basically would reduce him to a shadow of his former self over the final four games.  Starting point guard Jeff Peterson would reinjure his hamstring against Wisconsin with six games still to play in the Big Ten and Coach Lickliter forced to move Jake Kelly to the point guard position.  Backup guard Jermain Davis would also suffer a leg injury and miss some time.


That is a mouthful, but to cut to the chase, Iowa was looking at a potential disaster.


Yet, that did not happen. 


I am not here to say that Iowa turned in one of the more memorable seasons in school history, because it finished the 2008-2009 season with a record of 15-16 and 5-13 in league play.  However, I will remember this year's team as a collection of kids that represented Iowa well, and gave everything they had in spite of long odds and great adversity. 


The regular season finale against Penn State was basically a snapshot of the entire season in a 50 minute game, as Iowa beat the Nittany Lions 75-67 in double overtime. 


Tate played his last ever game in Carver Hawkeye Arena in a great deal of pain, yet he put 42 minutes on the board, along with 15 points and 10 rebounds.  Kelly, who didn't practice at some points leading up to the PSU game due to a sinus infection and the complications that go along with that ailment, would record a double-double in regulation and finish the game with 22 points and 11 assists on 8 of 16 shooting from the floor, including three triples in the overtime periods.  Never mind that two of those treys were banked in; you can excuse Kelly for the extra assistance.  Jarryd Cole, who suffered a massive knee injury last year, something you could call an ‘All-C-L' injury, scored 14 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.  Matt Gatens would add 12 for Iowa.


It was never easy for Iowa; they saw a nine-point first half lead evaporate to head into the locker room deadlocked at 24.  They saw another nine-point lead disappear in the final three and a half minutes of the second half, due to Penn State's press and the relentless attacking style of Penn State guard Taylor Battle, who led all scorers with 26 points. 


But it was defense, determination and grit that would win the day for the Hawks in the second overtime.  I don't know where these Hawkeyes found the energy, but they did.  I don't know how Kelly has done what he has done since Jeff Peterson went down (averaging over 20 points per game), but he has. 


On Kelly, I have come to believe this; this team is better when he has the ball in his hands on the perimeter.  Not a genius revelation that all of you haven't arrived at, I know.  But I think it might come down to the offensive sets that Iowa has been forced to run without Peterson on the floor.  Things are more ‘open' if you will, and Kelly's playmaking ability has risen to the surface.  I think Jake Kelly has a shot to be the best guard at Iowa since Andre Woolridge, and maybe even back to B.J. Armstrong or Roy Marble.  Time may prove me wrong on that front, but he has the talent. 


Yet on Saturday against Penn State, it was Kelly's mental toughness that outshone his athletic ability.  Realizing that things were not coming to him offensively for two-thirds of the game, he used the attention he received from Penn State's defense to find the interior mismatches that Iowa had with both Tate and Cole on the floor together.  That jumped out at me, and just shows the type of overall game he possesses. 


14,094 fans showed up on Saturday, marking the third straight weekend home crowd to top 14,000 in the attendance category. 


Todd Lickliter said in the post game radio interview that he was thankful for the support of the fans that showed up today, and added "I hope we made you proud today."


They did, indeed.

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